Design queen Kelly Wearstler transforms a vintage cabin into a beach retreat and surf shack for family and friends.
Every time Los Angeles-based designer Kelly Wearstler touches something, it’s a hit. The world of interiors is her playground and her high-profile clients like Gwen Stefani, Cameron Diaz, and Ben Stiller know it. Dubbed the “presiding grand dame of West Coast interior design” by The New Yorker, she recently launched a paint collection for Farrow & Ball and a new furniture and lighting series called Transcendence.
Meanwhile, the anticipated Downtown LA Proper hotel will open its doors this month, following in the footsteps of the San Francisco, Santa Monica, and Austin Proper hotels, which she has also designed with her refined, eclectic, and unconventional style admired by 1.6 million people on Instagram alone.
Another example of Wearstler’s multifaceted talent is an architectural gem from the 1950s that she discovered thanks to a friend. Unoccupied for years, its potential was immediately evident to the designer, who asked the owner if she could rent it for a few months while it was on the market. The property became a refuge for Wearstler and her family during the pandemic. Ideally located on a remote beach in Malibu, the house was the perfect place for the designer, her husband, and their two sons to enjoy their common passion for surfing every afternoon, giving them the feeling of being on holiday while staying conveniently close to Wearstler’s studio in West Hollywood.
“We felt so far away from our normal life, despite being fairly close physically,” Wearstler says. “The time I spent here was relaxed and peaceful, and very family-oriented. My perfect day at home was waking up and getting in my workout – either a virtual one with my trainer or going for a run – and then taking a cold ocean dip, surfing with my boys, relaxing together in the family room before cooking a big family dinner, eating alfresco in the evening, and then going down to the beach to watch the sunset.”
To feel at ease inside, Wearstler replaced an old shag-rug carpet with seagrass and then furnished all the interior spaces. The starting point was the architectural shell – reminiscent of architect Rudolph Schindler’s modernist style – earthy tones and rustic touches. Japanese influences are also reflected through the dark wood and meditative garden, among other elements. Vintage and contemporary pieces, such as the lantern by Isamu Noguchi, the Soriana sofa by Afra and Tobia Scarpa, the console by Base 10, Pulkka lounge chairs by Ilmari Lappalainen for Asko, green marble table by Mario Bellini, some furniture by Kelly Wearstler, and products from Gardeshop and Pat McGann Gallery gave new life to the house.
“I brought in a lot of items from my warehouse in Downtown Los Angeles where I store a collection of designs I have purchased over the years for exactly this kind of project,” explains Wearstler, who also introduced artworks by Jean Alexander Frater, Chuck Moffit, and Aschberg Magnuson. “One of my favorite pieces is the 1950s Control lamp by American designer Mitchell Bobrick.”
The handmade and raw are present in every corner of this 395 sqm, four-bedroom house where there is a feeling of escape. During quarantine, Wearstler started to enjoy cooking, especially in the galley-style kitchen with garden views that also opens up to the lounge, offering the ability to be involved with family and friends while preparing food. The designer focused on the continuity between interior and exterior throughout. For example, she transformed the dining room into a plant-filled solarium; created an outdoor area on the big back terrace; and worked with Inner Gardens to use more vegetation.
“This house is so authentic, a real diamond in the rough that just needed a little love,” says Wearstler, who loves to preserve history with a forward-thinking approach; something that she honors through her unique way of combining different styles and eras. “This property is a mix of old soul and new spirit, like me. I love fashion and it’s always a great inspiration. I dress like I design; my aesthetic has always been about mixology – the juxtaposition of contemporary and classic, masculine and feminine.” Impressed by the result of this transformation, the owner soon after sold the house to a tech entrepreneur who loves to surf. “There had been a lot of concern that it would be torn down, but the new owner apparently loves the original mid-century soul as much as me and plans to restore it to its full beauty,” says Wearstler.
For the designer and her loved ones, this place represented a unique moment in their lives with wonderful memories – a creative and soft parenthesis, when it was as if time had stood still. Back to her permanent Los Angeles home and already busy with what’s next, Wearstler continues celebrating the vibrant energy of Southern California. “Part of my creative process is drawing on local surroundings and environment,” she says. “Exploring the Middle East in this way would be exciting.” Here’s to the day Wearstler expresses her style and vision in this part of the world.
Originally published in the July/August 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia